You Can't Sit With Us: Creating a Table for the Marginalized
What kind of table is this?
As Black talent, entrepreneurs, designers, and creators, we are, unfortunately, used to fighting for space; used to calling out where are voices and stories are missing; use to pointing to the void and demanding that room be made until we are finally invited to the table. Recently, we’ve been reminded that being invited to the table is only half the battle. Beyonce’s rumored “walk out” of a Reebok deal due to the lack of resembling faces reminded us that we are seeking more than a mere seat at the table. We are starting to question the seat we are being offered: What kind of table is it? Do I really want to sit here? And the most important question of all: How sincere is this invitation? Are we being invited to the table because of what it means or what it looks like?
Although brands like Fenty seem to lead the charge to a more diverse market for fashion and beauty, it is not always ‘on-brand’ to lead with a Black face or even consider Black people as a market worth serving. So much so that Barabara Sturum, a White skin care mogul and researcher, reportedly couldn’t even get her products for darker skin tones on the shelves. Even Black businesses in the hair/beauty industry are being acquired by corporate monopolies left and right; releasing their diverse palettes and inclusive “initiatives”. Blackness has always been influential, but now it is consciously profitable, so words like diversity and inclusivity can be turned into cash. Yes, the doors are opening and the seats are getting pulled out for us, but it is our decision how we engage. Kerby Jean-Raymond spoke recently about the quality of the seat we’re offered as Black creatives at the Business of Fashion Voices panel. He recounted a time when he walked out of a conference about diversity in fashion when the conversation began to monetize diversity as profitable. Being invited to the table is not enough these days, especially if the invite is merely for propaganda. We are demanding more or we will not sit. How can companies believe we are willing to participate if we notice our market isn’t being properly represented or if the work they put in is half assed?
Beyonce did not sit and Jean-Raymond did not sit as an act to advocate for what they believe in, an act to advocate for us. While on one hand, we demand a seat at the table, we still recognize brands find it indeed profitable for them to include us if for no reason but to show it. Where does that leave us: the consumer, entrepreneur, talent? As more businesses and creatives of color construct and begin to lead our own market, we get to decide how and where we want to sit. The mood of 2019 is moving beyond the table. We no longer just want a seat at the table. We are making our own table… and it’s not guaranteed that they are invited to sit with us.